Genre : Action
Developer : Pandemic Studios
Publisher : LucasArts
Release Date : September 29, 2004
Earlier this week, LucasArts invited us mere mortals to a Star Wars Battlefront press event in the middle of San Francisco's Presidio, a former US Army base. The rendezvous point was "at the big tree with the white fence," and once there, we were greeted by LucasArt PR people, a few Imperial Stormtroopers and the sweet hum of Star Wars theme music was coming from the short yellow bus (it was actually white, but just humor me). Yes, we had indeed arrived at the right place, and the anticipation was building. After a quick ride, we arrived in the middle of the woods and were marched up a path, guarded by Rebel soldiers and more Stormtroopers, which led up to several tents filled with gaming goodness. The eagle has landed, so move on over, I'm coming in hot!
It seemed that we were rather early so finding a free terminal wasn't a problem. I am a firm believer that any FPS ought to be played with a keyboard and mouse so I zoomed to the nearest PC and bunked in for the night. Star Wars Battlefront was also available on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and I checked them out a few hours later.
During the course of Star Wars Battlefront, you will be able to play four sides, depending on the mission or map which you have chosen. Throughout the game, you will be able to assume the guises of Rebel Alliance, Galactic Empire, Republic Clone Army and Separatist Battle Droids. As soon as you start a map, you will have to make a selection from one of the two sides, each having five separate classes, ranging from soldiers, pilots (who are able to "repair" vehicles, so why not call them “engineers?”), snipers or grenadiers in one form or another, each with his specific weapon and abilities. Any of the available classes are able to drive or fly vehicles, so you do not need to have any specific training or abilities to do so; just stand under or near a vehicle and press the action key to climb in. One of the interesting abilities for some of the classes is the jetpack, which will either let you fly around for five seconds (after which gravity takes its course, but you can take off again immediately) or allow you to perform some sort of double jump, depending on the map you are playing.
Each of the 16 available maps is based on one of the Star Wars movies: Geonosis and Kamino from Attack of the Clones, Endor and Hoth from the Empire Strikes Back, and each one of them has a different theme, look or feel to it. Kamino has interconnected sets of landing platforms with mixed indoor and outdoor settings, Geonosis is a large outdoor desert map, and Endor is a forest map, with some nasty traps hidden left and right. The premise of the maps is quite simple in style; you have a bunch of spawn points, and whoever controls them all wins, Battlefield style. To add something extra to the mix, some of the maps have "alternative" objectives, like the Geonosis map, which requires you to destroy three large pillar generators, while on Hoth, you need to destroy AT-AT's on their way to destroy an Ion Cannon.
The first map we got to try out was Geonosis, and with the sprawling desert, minimal amount of buildings, and most importantly, the all-out battles with foot soldiers, AT-ST's, and Republic Gunships, it quickly became my favorite for the rest of the evening. In total, there will be about 30 vehicles available in the final game; in addition to the aforementioned vehicles, there will also be regular scooter bikes, X-wing’s, and TIE fighters.
As previously indicated, each map has several spawn points that need to be taken over, which is quite simple to do. As long as there are no enemies in the vicinity, all you have to do is stand close to it, and an icon will appear on the right of the screen in the enemy’s team color (red or green), and it will slowly deplete to white before filling up in your team’s color. Taking over spawn points does not work from inside any of the vehicles so you will have to exit, making yourself a lot more vulnerable.
Your onscreen HUD is kept pretty clean and simple so as not to deter from the ongoing action. Most notable is the minimap on the bottom left, showing your team members, direction, objectives and the spawn points (pressing the “M” key will bring up a larger version of that very same map). Apart from that, there is the ticket counter in the top middle of the screen, which measures your success or defeat, depending on the amount of spawn points you hold.
Controlling your character is done in the usual FPS setup with the WASD key layout on the PC and the standard fare with controllers. LucasArts will add the possibility of remapping your keys, which is always a welcome, but often forgotten, addition. Apart from the standard directions, you can also jump, and when doing so while strafing, your character will perform a sideways roll. When mounting any of the vehicles, the controls stay fairly simple and take very little getting used to, although maneuvering the AT-ST gave me some trouble in the populated forest map, but that was probably mainly due to my gaming prowess, or lack thereof.
Star Wars Battlefront allows you to play in either first or third person perspective and switch on the fly, even when inside vehicles. Speaking of vehicles, many have multiple “seats,” such as the Republic Gunship, which can hold up to six people, several of them mounting guns, which was one of the reasons why the Geonosis map became one of my favorites. While it is a known fact amongst my fellow WP editors that I cannot fly any vehicle worth a damn, I was extremely pleased that flying in SWB is really a piece of cake. The spacebar makes you lift off, increase altitude as you fly, or land when in stationary position, but apart from that, the controls are the standard WASD format, and you fire away with the mouse.
While most of the battles are being fought out between two factions in the game, several of the maps have a few little hidden extras. For instance, Endor will also have the furry little AI-controlled Ewoks fighting on the Rebel side, but they are a force to be reckoned with if you are on the opposing team. On the other hand, if you are a Rebel and accidentally kill one of your own Ewoks, your personal score will ultimately be affected. Ewoks also have a nasty little habit of hiding in trees and setting off traps, such as swinging tree trunks to take down AT-ST’s. Tuskan Raiders are a third party on the Tatooine map, where they are allied with neither side, so keep an eye out for those pesky sand dwellers. Several of the maps also have stationary gun turrets placed that you can mount and use as aerial defense or just blow enemy troopers to shreds.
Graphically, the game looks quite nice, although we could not experiment with various settings or resolutions. This isn’t Half Life 2 or Doom 3, but it is a notch better than the Battlefield material, so there is definitely eye candy available. Animation wise, there was still some work that needed to be done. When following team members, we saw quite a few glitches and “weird” maneuvers, but this is merely a first playable Alpha version of the game, so things WILL inevitably change. Quite a few notable features have already been implemented though, like the ragdoll effects when a rocket explodes next to soldiers, or when people get shot off platforms. The funniest thing to watch is when AT-ST’s get blown up because the long-legged vehicles start tripping and flailing around like drunken sailors before hitting the ground and exploding. Cool stuff.
I mainly played on the PC, but for the console contingent, I also briefly checked out the PS2 and Xbox versions. In general, the game looks the same on all platforms, and apart from the obvious differences in control schemes, there was not that much to compare and contrast. The PS2 version looks quite close to the Xbox edition of the game, especially graphically, which is quite remarkable. Contentwise, there will be no difference between any of the versions, and apart from the higher resolution on the PC side, the only real difference comes in the multiplayer portion. Console gamers can battle against up to 16 players (plus AI units, the Ewoks and Tuskan Raiders) over the internet or up to 32 players connected via LAN. PC gamers can battle against up to 32+ players on the internet or via LAN. The game also supports voice chat through compatible headsets for the PS2, Xbox, and PC.
After a few hours of playing, I was ready to warm up my poor little fingers, as the sun had set and the Presidio started to look and feel very much like a mix between Hoth and Endor, cold and abounding with foliage. Luckily, there were several campfires going, and while my blood thawed, I had the chance to talk with one of the producers, who gave me some info about the three single player modes: historical, instant action, and galactic conquest.
The “historical campaigns” mode provides a story-based experience for players as they progress through the two most famous conflicts of the Star Wars universe, the Clone Wars and the Civil War. The initial missions in each campaign are designed to teach the player the basics of the game, along with all the different units, vehicles, and maps. There are 17 missions in total, seven in the Clone Wars and 10 in the Civil War.
In the Clone Wars campaign, you will play first as the Separatist faction as you attack Naboo in an attempt to further their interests. Then, you will switch over to the Republic and attempt to stave off Separatist attacks throughout the galaxy. In the Civil War campaign, you will play as the Imperials first and attack Yavin after the destruction of the first Death Star. The perspective will then change to the Rebels, as you defend Hoth from Imperial attack. Still playing as the Rebels, Endor is the final mission where you attempt to destroy the shield bunker with the Death Star II with it. In both campaigns, famous characters such as Yoda and Emperor Palpatine will brief the players on the objectives of the missions.
The “instant action” mode kind of speaks for itself; you can choose one of the four factions to fight battles on any planet.
In “galactic conquest” mode, you can create your own campaign and attempt to take over the galaxy one planet at a time, using any of the four factions in the game. You will be able to control various game options, such as: number of planets, victory conditions, factions, etc. After that, each team will take turns deciding which system to invade or defend. Each system in the game has a special bonus that will be available to whoever owns it after a period of time. For example, if the Imperials hold Endor long enough, they can gain the use of the Death Star. Other bonuses include the ability to unleash memorable Star Wars characters, like Luke and Vader, onto the battlefront to help out their side.
Forming a conclusion is sort of difficult, as much of my coverage clearly indicates that Star Wars Battlefront may not revolutionize the online multiplayer genre, but that is not its goal. The only minor problem I had with the game was that the pace of the game was a little slow at times, and contributing to this feeling was the fact that there is no “running” ability; you keep walking at the same pace. Star Wars Battlefront will be an excellent addition to any self-respecting FPS fan’s library, and an absolute must-have for Star Wars aficionados. Let’s face it, we all like Wookies, we all wanted to shoot Ewoks at one time or other, and kill Stormtroopers by the dozens or maneuver an AT-AT and shoot down Rebel forces. Well, here is your chance ... may the Force be with you!
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